India does not exist as an entity, as an entity like a cricket bat exists or a storybook does. It does not just occupy space and time. It is not even a story that has an end and a beginning, and a moral and an interpretation. India is an idea, and like all ideas, it goes through continuous changes. Like the idea of a nation. But, is India a nation? And what is a ‘nation’? Various opinions are prevalent and yet, one thing is agreed upon: if India is a nation, it is a special kind of nation.
It is not a ‘nation’ as the US is one, or Russia, or France or even our neighbor, China. For India does not seem to have a concrete, well defined conceptual stratum, a single ‘natural’ basis on which Indian-ness can be defined or based on like language, religion, ethnicity or even a common past. That is why, even if it is an idea as ‘nation’ is one, it is more complex. In other words, every person tends to see ‘India’ in a different light. There are millions of Indias. That is why the question of ‘Visions of India’ even exists.
But again, India does exist, even if we may compare it with ‘India’ as a mere conceptual entity. India is a political as well as a social whole, and despite all the divisive forces trying to fabricate a new notion of ‘India’, like the contemporarily famous Hindutva Nationalism based on one religion, which is being unabashedly promulgated by the current government, there is one thing which connects all the Indians: our Constitution. That even RSS can’t publicly deny. That even the present ruling party can’t. No one can handle an image in which he/she is negating the Constitution even if they manipulate and play games with it like the present government is doing.
Now, there is one more thing we all must come to terms with. As much as anyone may like to counter-argue, the Constitution, which holds the Indians together, is a cold book. At a certain point in history, the inhabitants of a piece of the land decided to designate a Book their sacrosanct. They started calling themselves as the Republic of India by a mutual agreement. Constitution holds India together because it defines India. So in any ‘Vision’ of India, it has to be respected.
In my opinion, India has been as old as history itself. Even before the constitution came into being, there was an India. But the question is not so significant today. We should not look at the past so much. Whatever India was a long time ago, is different from whatever India is today. Also, we should not look at the past with the expectation of glory in our eyes.
Our past might have been glorious on the surface, but modern scholarship is giving us more and more examples as to how it was also steeped in with instances of gross injustice. What seemed to be glorious on the surface, was mired with acute vacuity of humanness and continued betrayal of the weakest by the powerful—something which plagues us even today, one example being the very much alive caste system.
So we look on in the future, and the present, which has the seeds of the future. We look inside ourselves: the citizens of India, what we want from ourselves. In other words, we look for a ‘common’ vision. And the current socio-political environment of India demands it more than ever that we scrutinize our inbred or imposed upon ideas, and look at them coldly, dispassionately and revise them.
Saffron polemics, which is sadly condoned even by the common populace, as is clear from the 2019 General election mandate, is a danger to the very idea of India. It is anathema to the minorities like Muslims and Dalits, but it is also dangerous to its high caste Hindu citizens in the long run, who seem to be currently benefiting from it. Not only does right-wing extreme Hindutva ideology auger mistrust and violence, but it is also hazardous for the economy and the environment. All must understand it. So, a collective vision is the need of the hour—now, more than ever.
I can speak for myself. It can be summed up in the way I look at India: “India is a partnership between its entire people.” This might be the only answer I have. My vision for India is an India in which everyone understands the nature of this relationship. It is a partnership forged per a rule book called Constitution. This means, whatever the baggage of our respective culture, our religion or ethnicity is, when it comes to living under a common identity, which is beneficial to us all, we have to give it less value than the Book.
We have to understand that we are all stakeholders in a piece of huge machinery called India. We agree that it is a partnership that makes us look at each other from a more holistic perspective. We understand our differences and accept them. Our differences matter only as long as we can perform different social functions. Like in a cricket team, we are so focused on winning the match, we forgo any ideas of our private and personal identities, perform our functions and treat each other equally. That is why we say, under the realm of the constitution, we are all equal.
But again, maybe “equality” is an overused concept, in the same way, “equality in diversity” is. The idea of a partnership, in which we are under the aegis of a reference manual, which also sets boundaries to the range of our actions in addition to giving us a domain, a free space, cannot be successful if we have to remind ourselves that we are equal continuously. When we continually call ourselves ‘equal’, we make a part of our brain question: “What is the need of calling us equal? Does it mean that we are not?” And we have to agree, one way or the other, that we are unequal in many respects.
One is Hindu, and another is Muslim. One is a Brahmin and the other a Shudra. Differences do exist, most of them historical because they are unavoidable in a world which is full of variety, and we come from it, we are the products of our past. But when we come to terms with “our partnership” and train our minds in that direction, we start thinking beyond those differences. That is the primary point I wish to make.
That is what my Vision for India is. That every citizen of this country can see how India is like a tavern where people from all over have gathered together and wish to spend some quality time, respecting each other and taking pleasure in the variety. If we come to terms with this idea collectively, we will start ‘celebrating’ diversity rather than just ‘accepting’ it.
It also forgoes all questions of the form of ‘Who is in and who is out’. We have to accept everyone who has accepted the Book, by accepting to live in the land defined by the Book, and we have to look into the Book in case of any kind of doubts. Of course, the present government is bent on destroying the integrity of the Book by strong-arming their desires into it, but that is a separate issue to discuss, albeit important.
Such a vision of India also takes into account any historical injustice done to some sections of society. Everyone is a partner, so everyone has to be on the same footing. Political equality is clearly a direct consequence of the said partnership. There has to be political equality across history and demography.
If a section of society is far behind on the ladder of progress, the constitution did right in making arrangements in such a way that it is given an initial push. A society cannot call itself just if it is historically unjust. ‘Selective upliftment of select sections of society via policies’ is important from the perspective of the partnership model: two people cannot be partners if they are not socially equal if one of them considers herself superior.
Thus, my vision for India contains the idea of a nation where there is no hierarchy, neither social nor political, where people are not castigated based on their castes, or religion or ‘otherwise’, where the mind is open to accept everything, live with everything.
The above thought pattern may seem like a polemic to someone. But in all honesty, that is the only course of action that is available to us. It is an idealistic response to something very real viz. non-ideal because one of the most real facts in the world is: a normal human will not rid himself off power if he has some.
We are naturally wired to harness and use power because we all love control. In contemporary parlance, we all want to be influencers. We are not what Mahatma Gandhi is in our eyes or Dumbledore from the Harry Potter series, who shuns absolute power because he knows what power does to us, mere humans.
When I try to imagine an ideal India, a society in all its colours—in which everyone is comfortable being who they are—comes to my mind. I see a society in which the political ideals of fraternity and equality have been accepted by our collective mind, in which we are so informed and educated that we never allow communalistic designs of sycophants to succeed.
I imagine an India where everyone has a voice, not just because the constitution has given her a voice, but because others let her speak and encourage her to speak if she doesn’t. In my India, everyone should be able to use her voice without fear, especially against those who want to benefit from the differences of People. An India in which everyone is an equal partner and doesn’t have to ‘sell’ his ‘voice’ in exchange for a privilege, which should be his right. An India in which an imposed equality has been naturalized.
Having said that, two major two issues are plaguing India, both connected and blocking India’s progress towards a visionistic future.
One is of course: the centralization of power via a devious mechanism, prevalent throughout the world and an opposition which (I must humbly accept) could not offer a solid defense; the citizens of India gave too much power in the hands of one person/party. This centralization of power is two-fold: one, how power got concentrated in the hands of one political party with a well-known political mission of control and exclusion, and the other: how that power in the political party is concentrated in one or two hands. This is alarming because no democracy can live through such a concentration of power, without getting derailed. In such cases, there is no democracy, in effect.
When power is centralized in a few hands, the idea of ‘partnership’ goes to the bins because a section of society (who are on the receiving end of those in power) go ‘rogue’ and start flexing their arms, and can spew all the venom inside them. They become unabashed and start ‘breaking’ the rules (which is on a whole new plane as compared with the idea of ‘skirting’ the rules). They thrust aside anyone who does not agree with him, and this is visible everywhere. I do not need to point out various incidents exemplifying a case in point specifically. Today, the centralization of power has led to a devious form of intolerance, and violence has become the norm.
The second problem thwarting any possible vision for India is deeply (often not visible to naked eyes) hierarchical social stratification. It is important to note that diversity is not the problem; a multicultural society is not the problem. The problem is social stratification, gradations of the communities and sub-communities, encoded in books like Manusmriti and now thought-structures of people. These deeply embedded notions of hierarchy conflict with the idea of partnership, according to which, despite our differences, we should be politically equal.
A possible, and in my opinion, the most powerful tool against the above-mentioned two-pronged enemies of social stratification (visible in the form of centralization and hierarchy-based division of society) is LOVE. Man, by his animalistic nature, is after power, yes. But the most powerful thing in the world is love, however abstract it may sound.
But again, love is abstract because it is very difficult to articulate in the form of ‘deeply scientific (post-reason)’ language that all humankind possesses. What we may not articulate in language does not necessarily have to be non-existent. And we just need to look at common examples from life. Love, somehow, rules the actions of people.
We do things for people we love, we fight for them, we travel hundreds of kilometers for them. Love is more primal to us than is often mentioned. Love is the most natural thing amongst us humans, and not just humans, all the animals understand what love is. I don’t think I need to give specific examples.
Now, this feeling of love, so central to us despite our differences becomes a common locus for us. We interact with each other, we hug each other, we forget our identities, we forget if we are Hindus or Muslims. We get rid of the notions of superiority/inferiority based on the caste-system. And I think by way of normalization, a continuous application of love for fellow beings, can rid us of the social and political walls that divide us.
I have a vision of India, where in addition to the Constitution, love is another central force. Where love is the playground where our actions take place. In my vision of India, we should be able to see each other as fountains of a common source, and instead of paying attention to the differences and walls, we should focus on the feelings of love and brotherhood.
This might be a redundant non-academic approach, but what else is there except a feeling of brotherhood for our neighbor?
PS: The above essay was written after a cursory reading of “Vision for a Nation: paths and perspectives” edited by Prof. Aakash Singh Rathore and Ashis Nandy. I am heavily influenced by it and suggest everyone go through it if one wishes to have a comprehensive view of what India as a nation is. The first thing I liked about this book is how it does not adhere to one particular philosophical position.
It is diverse in its approach in the sense that it does not shirk from providing you contradicting points. A book of essays is supposed to do that. And yet, one also observes a thread connecting all, a thread which is exactly where you find a Vision of India worth aiming and working for. The editors have done an excellent job in selecting the essays, and the foreword works as a cohesive sum of the ideas, with its unique blend of crispness and integrity. A book worth spending time with, indeed.